By Joe Fortenbaugh
LAS VEGAS—Shortly before 9:00 a.m. on Monday, with the temperature outside slowly climbing toward its customary spot among the triple digits, and with weary football fans making the trek from the Strip to McCarron Airport, professional and amateur horse bettors formed a line at the Wynn race & sports book for the chance to bet on the 2015 Kentucky Derby.
“We had people here at the book waiting to wager before we even opened up,” said Johnny Avello, the Wynn's executive director of race and sports.
The casino's release on Monday of odds on 250 horses—up from 150 in 2013—marked the 23rd time in as many years that Avello and his team at the Wynn offered the option to wager on the most popular and highly anticipated horse race of the year eight months before post time, with bets capped at a maximum win of $20,000.
As of Monday afternoon, 55 wagers had already been placed, according to Avello.
One of those wagers, the first to be made on Monday, was in support of Competitive Edge, the winner of the Hopeful at Saratoga on Sept. 1, who was steadily bet down to 30-1 after opening at 60-1.
The Bob Baffert-trained American Pharaoh, winner of the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 3, also got a lot of action. The colt began the day as the 2015 Derby favorite at an opening price of 40-1, and was ultimately bet down to 25-1.
Other horses who received support at the betting windows include El Kabeir, winner of a seven-furlong maiden race at Saratoga on Aug. 30 (bet down from 65-1 to 45-1), Carpe Diem, a $1.6 million colt who won his debut at Saratoga on Sept. 1 (100-1 to 65-1), Conquest Panthera, who won at Del Mar in his first time out on Aug. 24 (175-1 to 100-1) and Daredevil, who debuted with a victory at Belmont on Sept. 13 (85-1 to 60-1).
Curiously, two of the 12 horses who began the day with odds lower than 100-1, Cozmic One and Jess’s Dream, failed to attract any action early interest. Cozmic One, the first foal of 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Zenyatta, opened at 60-1 after recently taking part in his first published workout.
Why bet so early? Well, California Chrome, the winner of the 2014 Derby, paid just $7 on a $2 win bet on race day. But on Sept. 1, 2013, the Wynn had him at 200-1. “The first Kentucky Derby futures pool will have the greatest odds simply because it is still such a crap shoot this far out,” says Marco D’Angelo, a professional horse and sports bettor who owns the website WagerTalk.com. “Only 20 of these horses will get the chance to race in the Derby. As a horse owner, I know there are too many things that can derail a horse’s road to the Derby—injuries, sickness, being a late developer. So many things have to go right to win a race like this and that’s assuming the horse already possesses the talent to get the job done.”